Belfast Telegraph

Just imagine a world in which children can be their true selves

By Nuala McKeever

Imagine, imagine, imagine. There's something very attractive about that word, don'tcha think? So imagine my delight to discover there's a whole week of events happening in Belfast from today called Imagine!2015. It's a festival of and for ideas. For sparks of imagination.

For sharing and swapping thoughts and visions. For imaginative ladders up out of the routine, expected, predictable way of doing things, to a place where certainty can be given a day off and possibility can come out to play.

One of the ideas of the festival is to ask us, you and me, to submit five ideas for an alternative manifesto. With the election coming up and the plethora of party political manifestos that'll be flooding our letterboxes over the next few weeks, the organisers thought it would be exciting to find out what people would do differently in this part of the world if they could.

Five things. Seemed like a lot to me at first. I couldn't even think of one. Then I pulled a small thread sticking out of the seam of my brain and a whole deluge of ideas came rushing out.

It's a liberal's version of "If I ruled the world". A challenge to spell out not just your complaints about the status quo, but more interestingly, your positive suggestions for alternatives.

So, here are mine. They're mostly about education, as it turns out.

Firstly, I have a vision of children as young as nursery age being given time every day where they can simply be. Call it mindfulness, or meditation if you want to, but it's simply being, really. And doing it for a short period every day has already been shown to produce great results in concentration and academic achievement. I've no doubt it produces more confident, balanced children, too.

Secondly, I have a vision of children being given time every day to talk about how they feel. To become articulate in communicating emotions and examining their own emotions with some degree of objectivity. To learn that they are not their emotions. They are not just their thoughts. They are not just their senses.

Thirdly, I have a vision of children being given time every day to explore and play without anything electronic involved. To get in touch with the solid real world around them. To experience themselves getting dirty and messing about in nature.

Fourthly, I have a vision of all children learning how to cook healthy food, how to change plugs and fuses, paint and decorate, make bread, sew and knit, grow fruit and veg. Also how to sit and think and talk about ideas. Being allowed to study not either science, or arts, or humanities, but all of them, so they become rounded people, not people fitted into boxes.

And, fifth, I have a vision of children being shown that girls are to be treated with respect, not as objects. Girls and boys being treated as equally entitled to respect and allowed to develop all their feminine and masculine attributes without being labelled "butch", or "poofs". All children being allowed to express themselves as they are without being made to fit an adult's fear-based agenda.

Imagine a society where people experienced themselves as enough. How powerful that would be. How automatically democratic, because one section wouldn't hold the power over others.

We don't need reform, we need a revolution. The good news is the power we want to seize is inside us all the time. There is an alternative to how things are done now.

Just imagine.

For full programme of events go to www. imaginebelfast.com

Alarming nugget of information

Just when you thought McDonald's looked like a good place to eat (I never thought that, but I'm guessing some people do), you read that they're going to phase out pumping their chickens with antibiotics.

Phew! So it ought to be safer to eat their McMedicine products in a few years' time.

But, in the meantime, if you're contemplating some nuggets, try this one - they feed you chickens that have been fed antibiotics to make them grow bigger.

(Well, it's not really food, so I suppose it may as well be medicine).

Remind me, which bit of that meal is happy?

Ringing changes against cruelty

"We'll never stop using animals in our circuses," was the cry of the circuses back in the day when people like me started protesting about the unnecessary cruelty and indignity of said practice.

Now Ringling Brothers' Circus, one of the oldest in the world, has announced it's going to stop using elephants to perform.

Maybe in 30 years we'll see an end to black men being pushed from trains by Chelsea fans and women doctors at football matches having foul sexist comments chanted at them.

Don't stop protesting degradation wherever you see it. When we stand up for any living creature, we stand up for ourselves.

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